AMN Reviews: Milton Babbitt – “Philomel” [ATD4], Juliet Fraser – Soprano, & Luigi Nono – “La Fabbrica Illuminata” [ATD5], Loré Lixenberg – Mezzo-soprano

All that dust is a new independent label based in the UK that is dedicated to producing high quality releases of contemporary music. With the help of a Kickstarter campaign they have recently released five recordings. In this initial batch of recordings two of the five are high quality binaural recordings. Binaural recording is a recording technique that aims to create a 3-D stereo sound field that represents the listening experience of actually being in the room during the performance. It is best experienced with headphones or ear buds. Binaural recording is a very effective way of capturing the experience of a performance where there is a live performer(s) with multichannel tape/electronic accompaniment.


ATD4 is “Philomel” a serial composition from 1964 by Milton Babbitt that utilizes recorded synthesizer with both live and recorded soprano voice. The piece is one of the earliest works to use the synthesizer and is considered to be Babbitt’s best-known work. Its text is taken from a poem by John Hollander and its three sections are based on Ovid’s myth of Philomela. A tale of a women who is the sister in-law of a king whom rapes her. The king has her tongue cut out so that she cannot talk and then imprisons her. Her sister discovers the truth and helps Philomel escape. As they are pursued by the king the gods intervene and transform her sister Procne into a swallow, the king into a hoopoe and Philomel into a nightingale. The piece is a dramatic representation of Philomel’s transformation.

Babbitt used synthesizer and voices in a four-channel tape accompaniment to try and make the listener feel trapped in the music, as a way of conveying Philomela’s inability to escape her fate. The four channels act as a moving sound ensemble. The music is both very rhythmic and colorful with a great range of synthesized timbres and with a very demanding virtuoso part for soprano voice. The pieces mood is tentative and shattered but despite the stories horror the music is never sentimental in its anger or sorrow. As the piece progresses the mood shifts more to bewilderment at the transformation that is taking place.

On this recording “Philomel” is beautifully performed by soprano Juliet Fraser.  Her voice is very expressive, with great tone and incredible control. She is not simply singing to a recording but is actively interacting with a four-channel ensemble. Fraser is able to make this performance feel as if she is driving this ensemble while bringing this piece to life. Juliet Fraser is an accomplished performer of early music and new music. She has performed with many ensembles and has recorded for Hat Hut, Neos, Kairos and many other labels. Fraser is also one of the principles of All that dust.


ATD5 is “La Fabbrica Illuminata” it is a powerful work for voice(mezzo-soprano) and four-channel tape from 1964 by Luigi Nono. This binaural recording captures a fantastic performance by mezzo-soprano Loré Lixenberg. Lixenberg is an accomplished voice in contemporary and experimental music giving more than a thousand performances around the globe. Her voice has a beautiful tone that is rich with both power and subtlety. Lixenberg has performed with many of the world’s leading ensembles including the Ensemble InterContemporain, BBC Symphony, Berlin Philharmonic and the Tokyo Philharmonic.

“La Fabbrica Illuminata” came out of Nono’s work on a large-scale musical theater project depicting the conditions of factory workers. It utilizes texts by Guilaino Scabia and a fragment of Cesare Pavese’s poem “Due poesie a T.”  The mezzo-soprano voice sings a commentary on situations that are represented by the tape as it illuminates the conditions of factory work. The tape’s sound scenes are meant to represent the injustice and unfairness of capitalism to the working classes. While this description may make it sound like this piece is just some 60’s agitprop, it is not. It is much more than that. “La Fabbrica Illuminata” is a highly original piece that surrounds the listener with sonic scenes that can be dramatic, poignant and hopeful.  Even if you do not understand the language of the voices or appreciate the sentiment of the texts, the drama and intensity of the piece is clear.

“La Fabbrica Illuminata” is structured in three sections. The first section slowly builds from fragments and chants with the soloist appearing and disappearing while singing fragments of the texts. The section slowly builds up to an industrial crescendo. The second section is more reflective, often mysterious or dream like. The live voice sings while surrounded primarily by electronically processed voices occasionally punctuated by echoes of the illuminated factory. In the final section the tape is silent and the solo voice sings and intones verses taken from Pavese’s poem. Leaving us with a little bit of hope for the future as she sings “ … it will not be so  always  you will find something “.

In “La Fabbrica Illuminata” the listener is surrounded by sonic scenes that move into and out of one another. At times it can be dramatic or mysterious or even surreal. The four-channel tape makes use of electronic sounds, concrete sounds of factory noises as well as voices that go through multiple transformations.  Sounds move around the space to create distance and depth. As sound masses move into and out of one another it is as if we hearing sonic thoughts enter, unfold, transform and dissipate as another group appears. Nono wanted the listener to feel as if they were inside the sounds and to confuse them so that they are unsure of where the sounds are coming from. The experience of listening to this binaural recording on headphones achieves that. There is a wide dynamic range on this recording so don’t crank the volume up to much the first time you listen to it.

Binaural recordings are a unique way to present multi-channel works. In this time where so much music is listened to in the personal space of ear buds, binaural recordings provide the listener with a unique 3-D listening experience. For those of you that are afraid of Babbitt’s reputation as a serial composer of extreme mathematically based music, or Nono’s much maligned reputation as a composer of leftist agitprop, check your assumptions at the door and put on your ear buds and enjoy two of the twentieth century’s most spectacular sonic dramas.

Highly recommended!

Chris De Chiara


Analysis of Experimental Music Venues in New York City

Source: CityLab.

The report’s approach is serious, even wonkish, in presenting an audit of New York’s music venues—a category that includes nightclubs, live music, and music bars—and in assessing the cultural offerings they provide. Among the important points that emerge is the assertion that music venues with more experimental, non-commercial programming play a special role in improving community cohesion and resilience. Additionally, the successes and failures of the music scene are bound up with the overall pattern of demographic and economic changes in the city.

San Francisco Scene: October 19-26, 2018

Source: Bay Improviser.

Friday, October 19

Fri 10/19 7:00 PM The Laundry SF [3359 26th St SF]
Transmission: guest curated by Soundwave Directors
A performance carefully selected by the Soundwave Board Members. Performances featuring artists Anna Friz, Andy Puls, and Madalyn Merkey.

Fri 10/19 7:30 PM Adobe Books [3130 24th St SF]
Dax Pierson•Beast Nest•Marc Manning

Saturday, October 20

Sat 10/20 11:00 AM Bird & Beckett Books and Records [653 Chenery St. SF]
Andre Custodio is hosting a series of performances of textured sound utilizing electronics and other instruments for a bookstore environment. Performing solo for most of these Saturdays, but will occasionally invite others to fill-in.

Sat 10/20 4:00 PM Taube Atrium Theater [401 Van Ness Ave SF]
For our season-opening concert, we offer a special celebration of the music of Elliott Carter. Our “on STAGE Series” features large-ensemble contemporary classical works of the most influential and innovative composers of the 20th and 21st centuries. Carter was the grandest of the grand American composers from the 20th century, who lived beyond his 100th birthday and yet wrote music that was fresh, inventive, and forward-looking to the very end of life. We welcome our newly arrived artistic director, Eric Dudley, with a program featuring three of Carter’s works, including the rhythmically energetic and emotionally powerful “Penthode” for twenty players. Complementing Carter’s enduring voice will be a wry work by the young American composer, Tobin CHODOS, written for an instrumentation uniquely drawn from Carter’s “Penthode,” plus Canadian composer Sabrina SCHROEDER’s “Bone Games/Shy Garden,” an essay in the sensuality of noises. The series will begin with our popular How Music is Made Composer Talk and Open Rehearsal with composer Tobin Chodos.

Sat 10/20 5:00 PM Studio Valencia [455A Valencia Street San Francisco]
foreignfire: absolute one
the second in an unfolding series of hella real jewish rituals, absolute one‍‍‍ maps the biblical story of heelgrabber’s encounter at the double ca‍‍‍mp over the liturgy that twice a day awakens the ears to oneness

Sat 10/20 7:30 PM Taube Atrium Theater [Veterans Building 4th floor 401 Van Ness Ave San Francisco]
San Francisco Contemporary Music Players – Carter and Beyond: Invention and Inspiration

Sat 10/20 8:00 PM Mills College Littlefield Concert Hall [5000 MacArthur Blvd Oakland]
Maria Chávez (Sound Artist, DJ) performs at Mills College.

Sat 10/20 8:00 PM Studio 210 [3435 Cesar Chavez (between Mission and Valencia, SF)]
“Skatchdance!” with Tom Nunn (skatch), Christina Braun (dance) and Ilan Reuben (conceptual clothing artist) expands the world of skatch through movement, drama, facial expressions, lighting and experimental clothing. $20 (NOTA).

Sat 10/20 8:00 PM Piedmont Piano Company [1728 San Pablo Ave., at 18th St. Oakland, CA]
Vocalist/composer Molly Holm, with Her Unmistakable Band, explores the multicultural crossroads of improvised music through original compositions, straight-ahead and modal jazz tunes and traditional folk songs. Molly’s music, often intertwined with the elements of North Indian raga, experimental vocals, or playful free-form improvisation, also reveals the rhythmic and note-bending influences inherited from the music of the African diaspora.

Sunday, October 21

Sun 10/21 7:30 PM SIMM Series @ The Musicians Union Hall [116 9th St @ Mission SF]
An eclectic night of Freewheeling sonic mayhem, art-funk, and social commentary
7:30 pm Ode to Fall
Rent Romus – saxophones/flutes/percussion, gabby fluke-mogul – violin, Lisa Mezzacappa – double bass, Golnaz Shariatzadeh – violin, Angela Roberts – cello, Tony Gennaro – percussion
8:30 Rightstarter
PC Muñoz – drums, vocals, electronics / MC DEM ONE – vocals, electronics / Danny Z – electronics

Sun 10/21 7:30 PM Temescal Arts Center [511 48th Street Oakland]
Doors That Only Open in Silence (open participation, non-hierarchical workshop in free improvisation)
The monthly series of improvisation research at Temescal Arts Center continues. Bring your instrument or come to listen. No advance notice needed — just show up. Small groups will be randomly assembled from submitted names immediately before each group plays. We try to keep transition time between groups at a minimum. Over by 10pm. It’s free. If you want to contribute, bring snacks and drinks.

Tuesday, October 23

Tue 10/23 7:30 PM Center for New Music [55 Taylor St SF]
Future Sonic Cities: Artist Panel

Tue 10/23 9:00 PM Uptown Nightclub [1928 Telegraph Ave Oakland]
Moe! Staiano presents his latest large-space composition, “Away Towards the Light,” an exploration of tonal interplay and contrasting rhythms for nine electric guitars, bass and drums composed in three movements.
The venerable Vacuum Tree Head will be opening the evening, celebrating the release of two CD EPs, released in a lavish package.

Wednesday, October 24

Wed 10/24 8:00 PM The Back Room [1984 Bonita Ave Berkeley]
Reasons For Moving w/ Fred Frith, Darren Johnston, Larry Ochs, Jordan Glenn, Jason Hoopes

Thursday, October 25

Thu 10/25 6:00 PM The Laundry SF [3359 26th St SF]
Presented in partnership with the Center for New Music, San Francisco born, and Switzerland raised Erika Stucky creates an unparalleled mix of entertainment, avant-garde jazz and pop music, infused with American, Swiss and Dadaist spoken word performances. Out of this emerges a happily subversive work of art. Stucky creates and shares personal performances that synthesize yodeling, scat singing, spoken monologues and jazz into compelling yet uncategorizable music. Performing live at The Laundry, an intimate art house and tech coworking environment, Stucky will be present with accordion, percussion, vocals and live image projection. This is followed by experimental new music composer Chris Brown utilizing compositions for piano, and percussion instruments with interactive electronics and custom built electro-acoustic sonic instruments.

Thu 10/25 8:00 PM Luggage Store Creative Music Series [1007 Market Street SF]
8:00 pm Runcible Spoon Fight
Tom Djll, Clarke Robinson
9:00 pm Vaughn/Pino
John Vaughn – saxophones, Mark Pino – drums

Friday, October 26

Fri 10/26 7:00 PM Internet Archive [300 Funston Ave San Francisco]
WALL – Hosted by Soundwave
Curated by Tanya Gayer with performances by XUXA SANTAMARIA duo Sofía Córdova and Matt Gonzalez

Fri 10/26 8:00 PM Temescal Arts Center [511 48th Street Oakland]
Just Visiting (X-Ray Vision): A new experimental chamber opera from composer Brett Carson

Fri 10/26 8:00 PM Mills College Littlefield Concert Hall [5000 MacArthur Blvd Oakland]
IMPROVISATION CONCERT – The Schimscheimer Family Trio and duo B.: Lisa Mezzacappa + Jason Levis

Marilyn Crispell Interview

Source: Greenleaf Music.

Pianist and composer Marilyn Crispell joins Dave Douglas to discuss her music, collaborations, composition and her life as a self-described “traveling bum.” This brilliant musician describes her own personal and spiritual transformation upon hearing John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. And goes on to talk about her education and her work with Anthony Braxton, Reggie Workman, Barry Guy and many others. Includes music from many of her recent collaborations with musicians as diverse as Gunhild Seim and David Rothenberg, Tanya Kalmonovitch, Harvey Sorgen and Joe Fonda, Raymond MacDonald, and Tsiji Muñoz.

Jazz Concerts in N.Y.C. This Weekend 

Source: The New York Times.

VIJAY IYER SEXTET at the Miller Theater (Oct. 20, 8 p.m.). This esteemed pianist and educator is still riding a wave of recognition after last year’s “Far From Over,” the debut album from his sextet.

OKKYUNG LEE at the Stone (Oct. 23-27, 8:30 p.m.). You could say that Lee prefers to deny her instrument its rights — the right to melody; the right to a shapely, liquid tone; the right to beauty — and see what new possibilities emerge from there.

LIFE CYCLES at Jazz Standard (Oct. 19-21, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.). With a free-ranging intensity unmatched by any contemporary drummer, Brian Blade can move from groundswell to explosion to rippling quiet.

JULIAN PRIESTER at Kitano (Oct. 20, 8 and 10 p.m.). A trombonist with an amiable, misty tone and an inquisitive instinct, Priester has been flouting the divide between jazz’s mainstream and the avant-garde since before that line was drawn.